THE WEASEL

The estate agents' only counsel for ensuring a reasonably speedy sale is that you drop the price and keep dropping it until your cleaning lady could afford to buy it
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Indy Lifestyle Online
These are heavy times at Weasel Villas. You'd think the poor old place knew it was up for sale. It's become, atmospherically speaking, a glum old party, like a Windsor dowager who knows that her days in the grace-and-favour flat are numbered. The stairs down to the ("surprisingly roomy") basement have begun to creak warningly at the approach of the valuers with their clipboards and Rotrings. The drawers in the ("attractively spacious") kitchen all stick as if superglued when prospective buyers are being shown round. The very walls, upon which Mrs W and I spent recent frantic bursts of emergency emulsioning, have started to mutiny: when rapped by the knuckles of strangers, you can hear ("Don't hurt me!") the plaster wincing. This is a house that feels betrayed, a den in deep and melancholy denial, a home for sale.

Frankly, I'm not too happy about it, either. It's not just the business of decommissioning huge areas of your life - reducing the gorgeous clutter of the study to a score of cardboard boxes, marching the army of fluffy rabbits from the Weaslets' nursery into the barracks of a steamer trunk - though that's bad enough. It's the pitiless invasion of your serenity by strange people with loud suits and braying voices, asking impertinent questions; and that's just the estate agents. As for the punters who come to "view" ("This well-maintained property demands an early viewing", as if we were a television set), I'm all but speechless.

There were the O'Houlihans from Walworth, an Irish builder and his wife with a sudden Lottery windfall and an obsession about putting stone cladding everywhere. There was Mr and Mrs Smart-Young-Marrieds from Stockwell, who rhapsodised about the recessed lighting and the clematis, then returned a week later with one of their mothers, the three of them prowling like squatters for 90 minutes, having occasional rows about the wainscoting. There was a severe South African dame who came four times with different people, the last being her husband; while she introduced herself as "Mrs Broom", her husband insisted their name was "Brookham" - an impending divorce or I'm a gerbil. There was the belligerent military cove who stood in my lovely ("imaginatively furnished") living room, saying, in Tony Hancock tones, "Dear oh dear, that wall will have to go"...

If there's one thing more depressing than the prospect of handing over your beloved sock to any of this noisome crew, it's the attitude of the estate agents. A chronically maudlin collection of cuff-shooting ex-matinee idols and flaky female neurotics, they are reeds shaken by every wind. Recent debate in the papers about the venality of housebuyers and the joy of negative equity has plunged them in gloom. Their only counsel for ensuring a reasonably speedy sale is that you drop the price and keep dropping it until your cleaning lady could afford to buy it. The other day, one agent, when asked why the flow of viewings had dried up, said, "It's the weather. Nobody wants to look at houses in this weather". Are we being perhaps a little defeatist here?

Let's be radical. Do any of you lot want to buy Weasel Villas? I can't promise there'll be a blue plaque on the wall ("The Weasel, a harmless drudge with an affectedly Addison-and-Steele prose style, lived here 1991-95") in the immediate future. But I'm sure a grateful Mrs W would keep you supplied with black-market dormice for as long as you could want.

Flicking through the European's alphabetical colour magazine the other week, I glanced at the section headed "L for Language" and was halted in my tracks. Apparently, the Norwegian language has no word for the female genitalia.

This has never been a problem in English. My well-thumbed copy of Kind Words, an invaluable American dictionary of euphemisms, carries page after page of them, including "Cape Horn", the "Divine Monosyllable" ("obsolete by 1880, except among the cultured, who continued to use it until 1911") and the "Golden Doughnut" (Australian, 1970, since you ask).

On looking more closely, however, I see that the problem is not that Norwegian has no such words, but that none has been thought fit for inclusion in the country's official state dictionary, the Bokmalsordboka. Either this is a burst of Nordic prudery, or something more sinister, such as a plot against women. Ruth Vatvedt Fjeld, an Oslo University linguist, is convinced that words associated with women have been systematically excluded from Norwegian dictionaries. At the same time, because they are considered of no consequence, such words are excluded from the general Norwegian prohibition on words loaned from English.

This has created a curious anomaly: the Norwegian equivalent of the OED has no words for "sanitary towel", "liposuction" and "morning-after pill", but the descendants of Ibsen's Nora are allowed to bandy such imported barbarisms as "lip gloss" and "tights".

Ms Vatvedt Fjeld is working on it. Next year, she publishes her own women's dictionary, which will include such essentials of female life as "bikini line", "aerobics" and "scatter cushions". And she does promise a solution to our nomenclature problem. According to Ms Fjeld, the Bokmalsordboka defines female genitalia (kjonnsorganer, to you) as "the penis", which must have made life difficult for young Norwegians trying to satisfy their pubescent curiosity by consulting the dictionary. She proposes to come up with a new word that is neither biological nor insulting. Perhaps when she's found it, we ought to ask to borrow it.

Commercial Bad Idea of the month comes from the AA, which took a break from pretending to be an emergency service to send its customers a bundle of frightening documents masquerading as the aftermath of a Continental road accident.

They included lovingly prepared and apparently authentic police reports and garage bills, adding up to a nice pounds 419 total, in francs, bien sur. All were sent to users of the AA's famous 5-Star Service.

Unfortunately, having received these pieces of paper, law-abiding AA members were overcome with terror. Perhaps they'd had an accident without knowing it? Perhaps someone had taken their car to Marseilles and crashed it while they slept?

In fairness to the AA, a careful perusal of the material would have put most rational people's minds at rest; but there's something about an encounter with les flics that can set even the most sensible mind racing. Were we not taught in school that in France a person is guilty until proven innocent? Is not our literature, from A Tale of Two Cities to Papillon, filled with the horrors of the French penal system, where only a miasma of Gauloises and stale garlic stands between you and an eternity of cockroaches?

No wonder the lines between Britain and the French police were buzzing. "Oh bonjour, Inspecteur. Je telephone de Penge, oui, Penge en Londres. Il y a un terrible, er, blague, no, no, not a lie, a mistake..." You'd have thought the Association could have found a less frightening way of flogging breakdown insurance.

The grand tradition of British invention strides along. Having, this century alone, brought the world Luncheon Vouchers, cats-eye road lights and the Sinclair C5 electric tricycle, British scientists are in the headlines again. A Cambridge don called Malcolm Mackley, at the Department of Chemical Engineering, has been studying plastic polymers for two decades and his labours have finally paid off. This week he reveals his invention at the Royal Society, where the nation's most eminent boffins have traditionally gathered to witness the unveiling of the future. And what is the device Prof Mackley will spring on the world? A plastic rocket? A smart hospital? Nope. He's discovered how to make bendy chocolate by compressing it with a piston. Nestle are said to be keen on it; but I confess to a feeling of anti-climax. It's like hearing Isambard Kingdom Brunel gather the scientific world around him, only to boast that he's invented Liquorice Allsorts

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